New Brunswick

New Brunswick asks Supreme Court to rule on cross-border liquor limits

New Brunswick is asking the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on the controversial cross-border alcohol limits issue.

Acquittal of Gerard Comeau, who exceeded border limits, has national implications, public prosecutions says

The issue stems from the case of Gerard Comeau, who was all smiles in April when a judge dismissed a charge against him of bringing too much alcohol into New Brunswick from Quebec, saying it violated free trade provisions in the Constitution. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

New Brunswick is asking the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on the controversial issue of cross-border alcohol limits.

The province's public prosecutions services announced Tuesday it is seeking leave to appeal to the country's highest court after the New Brunswick Court of Appeal refused to review the acquittal of Gerard Comeau of Tracadie, who exceeded the provincial importation limit.

"The implications of this decision are far greater than simply addressing the purchase of alcohol. It concerns issues of inter-provincial trade with significant consequences," prosecutors said in a statement.

"Given the national significance of the issues involved, public prosecution services has decided to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada."

The service said the move is not an appeal of the New Brunswick Court of Appeal's decision.

"It is an application for leave to appeal the merits of the provincial court decision."

The decision was made "independently and free from any government or third-party interference," the statement added.

Mikael Bernard, Gerard Comeau's lawyer, says he is surprised public prosecutions has decided to take the case to the Supreme Court, but he remains confident. (Radio-Canada)
Comeau's defence lawyer, Mikael Bernard, said he is "a little bit surprised" by the decision.

"I do think that the case itself is of national interest," he said. "But that being said, the process that is currently being chosen by … the attorney general of New Brunswick, is just not something that is typical that we see a lot."

It's unusual for a case to jump from provincial court to the country's highest court, said Bernard.

Still, he maintains the provincial court's decision to acquit Comeau was "very well reasoned" and feels confident about appearing before the Supreme Court if it agrees to hear the case.

Comeau was charged in 2012 with exceeding the limit on beer and liquor that can be brought into New Brunswick from another province when he imported 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor from Quebec in his vehicle.

New Brunswick's Liquor Control Act limits are designed to protect the provincially run liquor stores against cheaper products from neighbouring Quebec. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)
New Brunswick's personal importation limit under the Liquor Control Act regulations is 12 pints of beer or one bottle of alcohol or wine.

But Campbellton provincial court Judge Ronald LeBLanc acquitted the retired NB Power lineman in April, ruling the restrictions were unconstitutional.

Section 121 of the 1867 Constitution states products from any province "shall ... be admitted free into each of the other provinces."

In October, the appeal court did not give any reasons why it would not hear the case.

The Supreme Court receives about 600 applications for leave to appeal each year. Only about 80 are granted.

The federal Conservatives had called on the Trudeau government in May to refer the Comeau case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Denis Lebel, the deputy leader of the Official Opposition, and Dan Albas, the interprovincial trade critic, suggested the Supreme Court "should also comment on which products, jurisdictions and types of barriers are covered by the Comeau ruling."

But Navdeep Bains, the federal Minister of innovation, science and economic development, has said he doesn't believe the government needs to "pursue these matters through the court system."

The federal government is pushing hard to include alcohol in a free trade agreement Bains expects the provinces and territories will ratify next year, he has said.

With files from Radio-Canada